In watching the senior class this weekend, I was reminded of what a unique place Ridgeview is and of some of the reasons I appreciate its students. To begin, they had had a day. First thing in the morning they were briefed about what the senior thesis would entail this year. Later, they stood outside in the intermittent rain and volunteered to allow anyone who purchased a water balloon to pelt them as they stood shoulder to shoulder. They did this to raise the money necessary to host the senior socials – a series of events hosted by the seniors for the various other classmen to build school spirit and unity. There are undoubtedly more comfortable ways in which to raise money, but none that I know of would have demonstrated quite the same sense of unity as this. They then spent the entire night at Ridgeview talking with one another and their teachers, cooking, playing dodgeball, sitting around a fire, dancing, watching a movie, and simply enjoying one another’s company and conversation. The next morning many of them went home, but a handful remained behind to read lines for the upcoming school play. This had now been twenty-four hours in the life of a Ridgeview senior.
I am happy to say that Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s lines from her poem Solitude did not apply to our students that night. She had written, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; / Weep, and you weep alone. / For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, / But has trouble enough of its own.” Despite the teenage tendency to move between merriment and melancholy at a lightning rate, the students were encouraged at the evening’s outset to set old hostilities and recalcitrant awkwardness aside and let friendship, or at least camaraderie, find its way in for the evening.
When I consider what it is that permits Ridgeview to be successful, I believe that no small part of it is owed to the small class sizes and the personalities that have been forged after years of sweating and stretching. These are, after all, not only the seniors, but the survivors. These are the ones who did not quit when the going got tough or when their parents promised or allowed them an easier way, and when one talks with them, really talks with them, it shows.
The connection between our seniors and Admiral McRaven’s commencement address at the University of Texas-Austin may seem tenuous. We make no pretense of the academic rigors of Ridgeview being equal to the physical or psychological rigors of the Navy’s BUD/S course in Coronado. Neither do we pretend that the challenges we are preparing them for are like those that await members of the armed services on the battlefield. While their differences are great, their similarities are greater. As Admiral McRaven noted, these ten lessons taken from his life experience can be applied to anyone’s life, and it behooves our seniors – really, all of our students – to listen to his address and to consider his remarks early in the year before things become more burdensome, the load becomes heavier, and the enticements to pack it in become too alluring.
First, take pride in doing small things both consistently and well. Those who cannot be entrusted to do a small thing carefully and attentively will not be entrusted with larger and more important things.
Second, it will not do to behave as a conceited loner who is too good for the group. All of us will need some help along the way, and so it lies with each of us to develop our amiability and integrity; to be a person of character and to take friendship seriously and not to try and substitute good friends for a network of fair-weather acquaintances or else the degrading misery of sycophancy.
Third, bear in mind that intellect and everything else that can be either inherited or developed rank a distant second to an indomitable spirit. In all things, be of good courage and good cheer.
Fourth, there will be days when no matter how hard you try and no matter how hard you work or how impressive your accomplishments, it will still not be enough and your efforts may not even be acknowledged. Suck it up and move forward.
Fifth, you will suffer you fair share of defeats and failures. Hard work, though, makes you stronger not weaker. It will not feel this way in the moment, but it will prove true over the longer run.
Sixth, sometimes delay and circumspection will cost you too dearly. Learn to know when to think unconventionally and make bold moves.
Seventh, life is full of bullies – both physical and psychological ones. They are like sharks, always circling and sniffing the water for blood, for signs of weakness. Stand your ground against them. Do not back down from a righteous fight. Have thumos.
Eighth, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We are rarely fortunate enough to be tested in our best moments, devoid of temptation or opportunity to go another way. In life, we are tested in the darkness, and life is a cruel teacher as Voltaire noted. We must do our preparation beforehand, and each of us must be prepared to be our very best in our darkest moments.
Ninth, we can be wrong. We can cry off our defeats and our injuries, but we must always get back up. We must, in short, believe. Believe that there is reason to continue, to fight, to strive, to hope. If we aspire to greatness, we will be the kinds of people that inspire hope in others and are capable of sustaining it on their behalf when all seems lost.
Tenth, do not quit. Do not ring the bell. If you do not understand the reference, listen to Admiral McRaven’s speech…again.
Like every year, this will be a year full of “trials and tribulations,” but I expect that students like these at this school like this with a faculty such as ours, will make it a great one. I look forward to it and encourage anyone reading this to find a way to support and be a part of it.